Stunning Snowdrops

I have often wondered what drives people to be obsessive about things and in particular to feel a need to collect every type available.  I have never been one to collect; I had a stamp collection briefly as a child and also a collection of pig ornaments for a while but my interest in them soon fizzled out.  So when I read about galanthophiles (snowdrop collectors) I am puzzled.  After all the difference between the flowers seems to be so miniscule that its barely noticeable.

Anyway, I am a curious person always trying to understand or learn things so when the programme for the Womens Farm & Garden Association programme came out I was intrigued to see a ‘Guided Snowdrop Visit’ listed near Cirencester which is only about an hour from me.  I had just joined WFGA so this was my first outing with them and I was thrilled to learn that my friend  VP had  also joined.  I think we were both a little apprehensive but we needn’t have been.

The visit was to the garden of John Sales, the former garden adviser to the National Trust.  I knew we were in for a good morning as soon as I turned into the driveway.  Either side of the gate there was a display of Winter Aconites and Snowdrops and then the most amazing sight – the middle of the driveway was a sea of Winter Aconites (see below).  I have never seen so many in one place.

There were 16 of us in total and VP and I were pleased to realise that the other ladies were just like us, keen and passionate gardeners.  We started off indoors (it was raining at this point) with John giving us an introduction to the garden and some history of how it had developed over the last 30 years  since he had moved there with his wife.  John is 77 and has a wicked twinkle in his eye – the whole morning was full of quips and jokes, many a little politically incorrect but very very amusing.

The rain stopped and we trooped outside. John’s large collections of the more common snowdrops grow along a ditch and as you can see from these photos are quite  stunning.  Slowly I began to see the difference between some of the snowdrops.  Some had glaucous  leaves, some wide leaves, some bright green leaves.  Some were much taller, although I wasn’t keen on these as they tended to droop down especially under the weight of the rain we had had.  Some had long outer petals, some with small green marks – the differences went on and on and as the morning progressed I think we started to really get our eye in.  We learnt that as a plant gets older so the flower stalk will get taller, presumably the bulbs builds up a larger and larger food store.  I particularly liked the Snowdrop Galatia and Lavinia which had a very open flower.

We then moved on to the garden proper and as you can see there are very deep herbaceous borders with more snowdrops.  John said that snowdrops didn’t do too well in a garden setting especially one like his which was gardened intensively.  This is because the bulbs get disturbed and also shaded out by surrounding plants.  We then saw the specials – each plant carefully labelled.  John told us  where they had come from, many as a result of his association with the National Trust. Some of the bulbs would have sold for quite large sums, amazing given the smallness of the bulbs! He has a number which have arisen out of crosses in his own garden and these  are all named after his family members.

I still cannot understand the obsession with collecting the plants and some of them, particularly the one with yellow tinges to the stem, were really not that attractive in my opinion.  But it was really fascinating to listen to someone who is passionate about their subject talk about it with such enthusiasm.

Chatting later in the pub with a couple of the other ladies we all agreed that the morning had been a much better way to see snowdrops than to visit an open garden where you wander around on your own and just read plant labels.  VP and I also agreed that we much preferred to see the snowdrops en masse particularly on the banks as you had a really good view of them.  We agreed that the bank at the back of my garden would look fab if I moved some of my snowdrops there so as soon as the flowers have finished I will be on the case. I didn’t enjoy the plants which were planted individually,  the specials, they just  seemed to be in the wrong environment.

I thoroughly enjoyed  my day – a fab garden, an amusing and knowledgeable host and great company.  I will definitely be going to some more WFGA events. I have also  concluded that I have the wrong temperament to be a collector – I am far too much of a magpie flitting from one shiny thing to another.

You can read VP’s shorter review here – she doesn’t ramble on like I do!!


21 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks to both you and Vp for your accounts. I reply jointly here thinking that you will both see it.
    I’ve collected lots of things in my life. Most of them nothing to do with gardening. And I think that is what this collecting is – nothing to do with gardening. And I also think that most collections you get to the other side of and realize the excess of it. Then if you are lucky you can flog the lot and make a packet!
    Great gardens are made by creating a range of plant types and good layout. And collections of small quantities of different types are very difficult to keep pure and are very vulnerable to loss of identity and interest and care by later generations!
    Who has rambled now?!

  2. VP says:

    Well I could have said a whole lot more than I did, but it wasn’t in keeping with the spirit of my piece! Besides I knew you’d make a decent fist of it. I loved the stories he came out with: especially the one about Lady Fairhaven of Anglesey Abbey who insisted the HG’s proposed name for the snowdrop named after her be changed from ‘Patricia’.

    It’s amazing how you can read about the differences each snowdrop species has, yet it takes a morning out with them plus a twinkly expert guide for you to really see what they are.

    A fab day and hurray for WFAG! Off to change my post now to link to yours 🙂

  3. Hanni says:

    Sounds like a wonderful time! I’m not much of a collector, either…but pig ornaments, now that has my interest peaked. 🙂

  4. Helen, Snowdrops sneak up on you. First you want masses of the common one. Then you want the ones that are “truly different”–double, green-tipped, shiny green leaves, etc. Once you have those, you start to look more closely and they really look different and you can begin to appreciate more refined differences. One morning you wake up and you are a galanthophile, and you don’t know how it happened. They are also a plant that you can collect for their colorful history as I explained in a post. You are so lucky to have a garden like this to visit—I am jealous. Carolyn

  5. What a beautiful garden. I am like you a tad. I find it hard to see much difference since it is often subtle. I do love snowdrops because they are so delicate looking, yet in reality are tough little flowers . Fortitude I think.

  6. Victoria says:

    I think I have a tendency to collect things, but it certainly isn’t snowdrops! This sounds like a fabulous day.

  7. Lucky you! John Sales is a good friend and a man for whom I have long nurtured a deep admiration. His influence on the National Trust was hugely important and whenever I’ve worked with him judging for the RHS, I’ve always learnt something new and of value. He has a sparkling sense of humour, but when hard at work judging, has an unerring eye, often pointing out defects or special qualities that the rest of us have missed. Your day must have been hugely enjoyable.
    Galanthophiles are nutters, pure and simple. And good luck to them!

  8. The point which specially interests me is that there were aconites. I’ve found it impossible to grow snowdrops in the garden (great celebration when I had two flowers this year – the first ever!) and there are none in the woods nearby. Nor are there aconites. I suppose that’s it. It must be the soil or the air or the general climate, not me! Phew. That’s a relief. (Disappointment too if it confirms snowdrops really don’t like it here.)


  9. Sounds more fun than I initially thought, it is always good to be shown something by an expert, and an expert with a twinkle and a tendency to political in-correctness sounds near perfect! I don’t like the sound of yellow-tinges stems though. Snowdrops on your bank sounds perfect.

  10. Anna says:

    I think that I would have been in seventh heaven if I had been in your company! You and VP were fortunate to have such an opportunity. There was a short snippet about the WFGA in the gardening pages of my newspaper at the weekend. I could have become a galanthophile given different financial circumstances 🙂

  11. Christina says:

    Sound like you had a lovely day Helen, I love snowdrops but like you its the masses you find on a roadside bank or a churchyard that I enjoy most. I remember visiting Margery Fish’s garden to see the snowdrops there, and though I had an enjoyable time, came away thnking that there are a lot of other things I’d rather collect – not that’m a collecter either. Chrisitna

  12. silly says:

    I am not a galanthophile, but i like to have some different species.
    I have the normal elwesii and nivalis, and worownii, which has broader leafs, and viridapice, which has green spots on the petals.

    The crown in my “collection”is regina olgae, which i really really really wanted. I hope it still lives because it didnt flower in the year i planted it.
    This snowdrop blossoms in autumn.

    Since i always have the feeling winter lasts forever, snowdrops scare away my winter dip and make me hopeful that one day it will be spring again 🙂

    The best sight is them in masses, more masses, endless masses…

    I really like your blog!
    Greetings from holland!

  13. Helen, I loved this. I was just thinking, “I’ll pop over to the British blogs to see if there are any snowdrops.” They are so hard to grow in my part of the country. I have a few, but only a few. I think I overwork where they are, and they can’t get established even a bit. I think I’ll plant them under some trees. At least give it a try. Will see.

    Anyway, I loved reading your thoughts about the garden visit and learning more about these little darlings. I can be quite the collector, but am trying to stop myself. Lovely. Thank you.~~Dee

  14. I’m not a galanthophile either, but I do love them dearly. What a treat it must be to see whole banks of them blooming and to be given a guided tour by an expert. I grow only G. elwesii and have steadfastly resisted the lure of the varies nivalis cultivars, but I’m beginning to weaken. It’s hard to imagine too many snowdrops. I don’t think there is such a thing.

  15. Jane H says:

    Hello Helen,
    Thanks for the snowdrop account. I have been to see some and blogged about them too – you might like to visit next year – it’s Evenley Wood Garden in South Northants. It’s more a wood than a garden, with little highlights of snowdrop drifts or banks here and there, and some other things too including the elusive aconites. I’ve had a discussion with Cottage Garden Society people about them – apparently they are hard to establish, it’s not just me! I too don’t get the snowdrop thing, however I did feel tempted to get one with green tips, so maybe that’s the slippery slope..

  16. gail says:

    Helen, A delightful post~I can’t grow them here…But, they are pretty little flowers and I love seeing them in gardens. Especially massed! Hillsides seem a great place to plant them~What a treat. gail

  17. I enjoyed this post Helen. I have a few, don’t collect more due the cost than anything else. Nancy Goodwin at Montrose in Hillsborough, NC has a field similar to the first photo. Two fields actually, one fall blooming and one winter blooming. I’m heading to see the winter blooming field on Thursday. If I can’t do, I will go where I can to see what others are doing. Helen

  18. fairegarden says:

    I loved reading about your day, Helen. How fun to be with a group of like minded and see the snowdrops on the hillsides. Your back hill would be glorious! I will be waiting to see how it turns out. Will you be slicing the bulbs to make many more, as has been featured in magazines? Step by step, please, if so.
    A keen snowdrop lover, Frances

  19. shirl says:

    Helen, what a wonderful visit this sounded. Mice to have VP with you on a visit again too 🙂

    Doh… I hadn’t realised you had posted this… oops… sorry late catching up with everyone this week. Lots of distractions 🙂 I hope you don’t mind that I’ve added a link to this in my recent posting. I’ve been collecting links to snowdrop visits 😀

    I guess I’m late (in gardening terms) to appreciate snowdrops. After visits to masse plantings in woodland settings in the last few years I am now a fan. I can never create that in my garden. As John said, they don’t like being disturbed and as I am always digging things up and moving all around they never stood a chance here. I too have a plan to resolve this. I have a grass mound that might just do nicely. I’ll buy some in the green and plant them in the grass. Fingers crossed it will be successful – it works with crocus and daffs 🙂

    Interestingly I do like the snowdrops with yellow tinges. I do like the specials and seeing them spaced out and it was through looking at them that I discovered the Snowdrop’s cousin the Snowflake which I adore now!!!

    As gardener’s we do change the way we see plants as time and gardening rolls on. I also like the idea of collecting a plant species and have made up collections of ferns in the past. That changed and I gave a way many keeping just the evergreen ones and my favs 🙂

  20. Kathleen says:

    That’s the way to view snowdrops ~ in mass! I have some blooming here and there but you have to look closely to see them. I guess that would be a reason for a collection?? Sounds like a fun day. Hope winter hasn’t been too hard for you…

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